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I'm a professional software engineer in my late 20s with a MSc in Computer Science and 3 years work experience in small companies (7+ years programming experience).

So, I'd like to develop custom enterprise software for small businesses. By the term custom I mean an individual piece of software for each customer.

The problem is, I have no portfolio or something similar, because the software I've written is not open for the public.

So, my idea is, to pick some small companies in my local area and to send them an offer letter where I explain how important it is to support a business with specialized software, who I am, and what I can do for them.

I'm pretty sure, that most of the recipients of such a letter will see it as kind of spam.

How can I make my offer letter not seem like spam?

  • Hey kalamar. Welcome to Freelancing SE. To help you, I edited to make a more concrete question. What is your business model? What type of business problems are you trying to solve? – jmort253 Nov 3 '13 at 5:04
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    At the very least you should have the product you are trying to sell visible and available as a demo. Otherwise, you're spinning your wheels. Few companies will hire some random person to do ANYTHING on pure speculation. Would you buy a car/home/anything if you couldn't even see it? – Scott Nov 3 '13 at 6:20
  • @jmort253 Thank you. In short, my business model is to write database based software for clients, dealing with a big amount of custom data, therefor I'd like to write customized software for each client, which supports the internal business procesess and workflows. – kalamar Nov 4 '13 at 15:30
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    @Scott Thank you for your anwser. Although I see your point, my buisness model is to sell "a service" not a "product". I'm not willing to write a demo, because it's work for about 6 months. It's also not really possible to write such software, which can be easilly customized for an individual customer (ok, SAP or Oracle can do that). So, the client will say no, because the software doesn't match the requirements. In my case, it's just a waste of time. I'd like to provide a service! I'd like to present myself (as someone who can do it) in a way which is interesting for a potential client. – kalamar Nov 4 '13 at 15:37
  • Sorry, it's not a "service" if you must construct custom software. That's a product. – Scott Nov 4 '13 at 15:41
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The way it typically works is this: Businesses are looking to solve a problem. It could be solved with software, or it could be solved with process improvements. Or it could be solved by a little of both.

It may take 6 months or it may take three weeks.

Despite your credentials, you still seem a little inexperienced. Maybe not in software, but definitely in the business of software. Inexperienced developers tend to think too big in terms of scope. Again, I say inexperienced in the business of software, not necessarily as a developer. There is a difference.

Therefore, your best bet is to start off small. Look for businesses that just need a small change done. This will get you to the point where you're talking to real customers and finding out what they really need. In most cases, many businesses are going to just use pre-built software because it's cheaper and has been tried and tested in many different businesses and environments. Custom-built software is expensive, and most businesses who build custom software will either do it in-house or with experienced contractors. What's more, custom software is a long-term commitment with support contracts and SLA's and things that may arguably be difficult for a single sole proprietor to support.

So, instead of approaching these businesses with a 6 month scope of work in an offer letter before even finding out what they're about, word it so that it sounds like you want to help them solve a problem. If you approach them with the idea that you're going to spend six months working on enterprise database software when all they really need is a simple solution to manage a few documents, they're immediately going to think that you're not really going to listen to their needs. The last thing any business wants to deal with is a contractor who doesn't listen to them.

Years ago, I worked for a company that needed a website built, and we hired a few different contractors because they all said they'd build the HTML to standard but ended up using tables (for non-technical readers, that's an outdated methodology). We finally found a contractor who would listen to what we needed, and that person got our repeat business.

  • Hmm... good suggestions. I'd like to upvote, but I don't have enough reputation points. – kalamar Nov 4 '13 at 15:58
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    I'll upvote for me and @kalamar, and I'll add that I had the same experience. While having the skill to build my own website (freelance IT Consultant and Software Solutionist), I would have rather outsourced it. I put a request for bid out on a freelance site, and very specifically mentioned wanting a Drupal template. 99% of the replies were people offering me Wordpress. Did they even read my request? – MDMoore313 Nov 8 '13 at 16:17
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The first, as guys mentioned, you either must have a concrete product or a good plan. Although having the product will definitely bring more concrete money to your company. Unless you convince small companies to pre-register for you software for some discount.

OK, once you have had it, sending emails or paper mails is IMHO waist of time. How wants to read a paper, then call the guy from the paper, then talk to him,... Most CEOs don't have time for this.

You need to be more active and arrange the meeting with each company and present them your product. You will have a lot of declines, a lot of false promises, but you will also get a concrete customers. I mean, I would do it this way if I were you.

So practice your talk, make a good plan or product, and go to action face to face. Jobs I arrange via email correspondence which takes 7 days, I arrange in 2 hours talking to the CEO face to face. If you want to be your own boss and before you gain good portfolio, this should be the proper way to go.

Let's see what others will say on this matter.

  • Guys, thank you very much for your responses. They are very helpfull! Although I share the doubt with you, that's really not my buisness model to have a finished, ready to use software and try to sell it. As mentioned, right now, I'm just a employee. My daily concern is to write custom software based on the customers requirements (which have to be worked out together). The idea to find my own clients is new. I know, there are guys (and companys) out there, who do exactly the same. I'm kind of an "start-up entrepreneur" with no (public) portfolio. I also cannot just work on an example... – kalamar Nov 4 '13 at 15:10
  • ... because the software (scope) I'm willing to write is work for ~ 6 Months and might be a waste of time if the outcome is just the same as "the cold approach". I have a "scope" of potential clients, thus I'm able to state the clients benefits. Maybe this is a potentially good approach? – kalamar Nov 4 '13 at 15:14
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I'm in a maybe similar position - I'm a consultant who offers custom solution development for organisations as well as training. Your experience and credentials are all well and good, but if you do want to approach potential customers you need testimonials and demos. It is definitely worth your time to prepare a portfolio. Why not do it for yourself? Your decision to become a contractor means that you'll run a small business - so why not build a custom solution for yourself? This way you have something useful and you can show your clients that there are benefits to using what you produce instead of buying something off the shelves.

You might also find issues of course, but that's invaluable - it's better to realise that an idea might not work quite the way you've imagined early on, right?

If you've worked with clients who really liked what you did for them, ask them for testimonials. Take screenshots of completed work (if that's possible) and prepare a few presentations. Practice, as Jmort and Peter say, plan, plan, plan ... you do need to be clear on what it is you're offering.

I'd say, as long as you're still an employee, prepare for your new business venture by doing exactly what you are going to offer your clients - build a few custom solutions. Be your own client and your own worst critic. And consider building simpler solutions - 6 months is a long time and you'll need quite resourceful customers to commit to these kind of time scales and expenses.

Danny

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